Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Pond at Creekside Church

Creekside Church
Conservation Drive, Waterloo, ON
28 May 2013

    The ignominious little pond at Creekside Church abounded with birds yesterday, during a day marked mostly by intermittent showers, and at times heavy rain. In fact, I saw the greatest concentration of swallows there that I have observed anywhere this year, as aerial insectivores seem to be declining ever more each year. The following pictures appear a little grainy, but they were taken through a film of air laden with moisture.

                      Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow, Eastern Kingbird

                                                      Barn Swallow, Eastern Kingbird

                                               Barn Swallow

                                 Northern Rough-winged Swallow

                                                     Family of Canada Geese

                          Barn Swallows and Female Red-winged Blackbird

                                     Horned Lark

                                             Robust Young Canada Geese


Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Niagara-on-the-Lake Wine Tour

Niagara-on-the-Lake Wine Tour
25 May 2013

     The Wilfrid Laurier University Alumni Association runs a tour to the Niagara Peninsula each year to enjoy one of Ontario's most historic regions and to enjoy some fine Canadian wines. This year we were fortunate to be permitted to join the tour thanks to Karen's connections to one of the alumni. 
    We left Waterloo in a modern, spacious bus at 08:45, picking up at two other locations before heading to Niagara.
    Although this was not a birding trip, like most birders we never stop birding, and we noted every species along the way. Going over the Burlington Skyway we observed a substantial nesting colony of Double-crested Coromorants, countless thousands of Ring-billed Gulls, seven Mute Swans and a lone Mallard. No doubt we missed many other species, but the bus was travelling at highway speed and we had little chance for prolonged observation.

                                 Ship in the lock at Welland

    Three excellent, relatively new wineries had been chosen for this tour, and our first stop was at Peninsula Ridge Estates Winery which opened in 2000. Since the very beginning, owner Norman Beal has worked diligently to ensure that everything necessary to achieve the production of first class wine in the sand/clay soils of Niagara is achieved. As a matter of fact, the members of our little group were not especially thrilled with the wines (except that I liked the Sauvignon Blanc very much), but we were pretty much unanimous that the ice wine, with rich hints of rhubarb and strawberry, was the finest we had ever tasted.

                               Vineyards at Peninsula Ridge

                                        Karen and Me

    Following our visit to Peninsula Ridge we enjoyed lunch at Bistro Six-One Restaurant in Niagara-on-the-Lake, surely one of the most charming towns to be found anywhere in Canada. A menu had been supplied in advance and Miriam and I had both selected a ham and Brie sandwich on wholegrain bread accompanied by a mixed green salad. It was a fine choice and we both enjoyed it. Miriam had coffee and I had tea.
    Following lunch we had sufficient time to meander around town. It was a splendid, sunny day, albeit a little cool for the time of year. We ambled around, enjoying the charm of this exquisite location, and made our way down to the Niagara River. From a birding perspective it was interesting to see Common Grackles perched on branches above the water's edge, only to sally forth, hover briefly, and drop down to snap up a minnow. I have seen grackles opportunistically feed from the shore at the side of a stream or pond, but I have never seen them fish in this manner.
                                  Niagara-on-the-Lake Scenes

    We rejoined the bus at the parking lot at Old Fort George and left for Flat Rock Cellars at 14:45.
    Flat Rock cellars is my favourite winery in all the Niagara Peninsula. It produces fine wines and is especially noted for Pinot Noir, Riesling and Gewurztraminer. Furthermore, it has an absolute commitment to environmental responsibility; all of its grapes are harvested by hand, no pesticides are used, the natural features of the landscape are used for climate and humidity control and numerous other measures ensure that wine is produced in harmony with the natural surroundings of the Jordan Bench, as the area is called. Swooping over the pond used for thermal energy were Northern Rough-winged Swallows and an Eastern Kingbird was perched on a branch at the edge of the water.

                                                     Flat Rock Cellars

    Following a successful visit and wine tasting at Flat Rock we moved on to our final vineyard, Rosewood Estates Winery. This family owned winery is of recent origin and combines its wine production with the production of honey. The owner of the winery, Eugene Roman, has an extensive background in beekeeping, and it seemed natural to utilize this connection to the land to benefit further from its bounty.

    This is a fabulous winery, with a high quality product, already having won numerous prestigious awards. Furthermore it has the most enthusiastic staff we have ever seen, people who seem really bonded to the founders Eugene and Renata, the vineyards, the apiaries, the wine and the honey. Mary and Sonya were our guides, both proficient and quite wonderful in their own way. Sonya especially was a firestorm of uncontrolled energy, whose infectious enthusiasm permeated us all. Due to their connection to bees, the staff are all seeking bee-related nicknames. Sonya's is Ener-bee and it is well deserved. Renata, of course, is Queen Bee, but Mary has yet to select her honorific. Miriam came up with the witty idea that in the month of May, being named Mary, she could simply drop the "r" in her name and become May-bee!



    Following our wine-tasting, we were served a wonderful dinner. It was very atmospheric indeed to dine in the barrel room, surrounded by thousands of litres of wine aging in their barrels. It was really quite lovely, and I am giving the complete dinner we enjoyed:organic baby greens with a blueberry Baco Noir vinaigrette, chick peas and red pepper salad, broccoli salad, braised beef in mushroom sauce, chicken with lemon and capers, olive oil roasted potatoes and roasted asparagus. Dessert was cheesecake with strawberries, and tea and coffee. As you may well imagine, dinner was accompanied by fine wines at our table, and dessert was accompanied by Mead, a specialty product of Rosewood Estates, made by fermenting honey and water. Mead dates back to at least medieval times and I had never tasted it before, but I intend to again!
    It was Karen's sixty-fifth birthday and the lights were dimmed and she was presented with a candle on her cheesecake and we all sang Happy Birthday.

    The combination of good wine and good food is surely one of the great refinements of civilized societies and I feel sad for those who have never experienced its pleasures.
    We all boarded the bus for a relaxing journey to Waterloo, and returned home well-provisioned for enjoyment throughout the summer. Perhaps we may once again be invited to join this tour. 

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Useless Squirrel-proof Feeder

Totally Useless Squirrel-proof

    I bought the bird feeder shown below from a Wild Birds Unlimited store with the assurance that, while it would not keep out red squirrels or chipmunks, it worked very effectively to prevent marauding grey squirrels from getting to the peanuts. As you can see from the pictures below, grey squirrels can get past the supposed barrier with ease and sit and eat the peanuts with impunity. I sent a picture to the store where I purchased the feeder but did not even receive an acknowledgement and they continue to sell this feeder. Buyer beware! This feeder is totally useless as a defence against squirrels depleting your peanuts in short order.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Billings Bridge, Ottawa

Billings Bridge over the Rideau River
20 May 2013

    While visiting Ottawa this past long weekend, my sixteen year old grandson, Sam, wanted to go down to the Billings Bridge to hone his bass fishing skills, which are quite prodigious. He is the youngest member of the Bass Anglers Association of Ottawa and is enrolled in five tournaments this year. If you are keen on fishing watch out for the name Sam Cudmore; I am sure he is destined for greatness. He even has videos on U Tube.
    Ironically, Sam's little brother Will, who is not especially interested in fishing, grabbed one of Sam's rods and promptly landed a good-sized Smallmouth Bass.
    It goes without saying that we took our binoculars with us and were very pleasantly surprised to find the bridge a very birdy spot. The highlights were the sheer numbers of Mallard ducklings and the presence of four handsome male Wood Ducks and one female. 
    Between watching Sam fish and observing the birds we passed a very pleasant couple of hours along the Rideau River.

                                                    The Billings Bridge

                                                                Sam Cudmore fishing

                                            Will Cudmore with Smallmouth Bass

                                                      Female Mallard and ducklings

                                                      Female Mallard and ducklings

                                         Male Mallards resting on the river bank

Mallard Ducklings

                                                                                       Male Wood Duck

                                                                                       Male Wood Duck

                                                                                       Male Wood Duck

                                          Female Wood Duck

                                                                        Male Wood Duck in tree

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena
Bronte Harbour, Oakville, ON
11 May 2013

    Once again a pair of Red-necked Grebes is nesting in the inner harbour. The nest contains more fresh greenery than I have ever seen and one bird (the female I assume) was sitting on the nest. The male delivered new material to her (as seen in the photograph below) which she accepted and carefully rearranged according to her sense of what seemed right. There was considerable vocalization between the two birds, and the male even attempted some minor housekeeping at the nest.
    Last year, as far as I know, they failed to rear any young; let us hope that this year brings more success.

Canada Goose

Canada Goose Branta canadensis
Bronte Harbour, Oakville, ON
11 May 2013

    Nothing says Spring like the arrival of young Canada Geese. Every year it seems that once I have seen the first brood, these little goslings are everywhere. Canada Geese are devoted parents and fierce in the defence of their young. This family was photographed at Bronte Harbour this afternoon.

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus
Bronte Harbour, Oakville, ON
11 May 2013

    Today there was a spectacular movement of Double-crested Cormorants at Bronte Harbour. The stream of birds flying by lasted for several minutes and comprised at least 1,250 birds, and I am sure that our count is conservative. All the birds settled in an area just outside the breakwater at the west end of the harbour until a couple of people in a small motor boat aimed their craft directly into the birds, causing them to move farther out into the lake. What satisfaction these yahoos derived from their action I cannot imagine.
    In Ontario we are engaged once again this year in a dreadful and shameful cull of this species. I have never seen any sane rationale for this annual slaughter, yet it continues under sanction from the Ministry of the Environment. Obviously, all birds are not killed outright, and wounded birds are left to die a lingering, painful, miserable death.
    I am sure that some people claim that there are too many cormorants, although who determines what is too many I have no idea. Perhaps we should look at ourselves before we pass judgement on other species. In any event the population of all species is ultimately self-regulating in its own way and needs no interference from us.
    Apart from anything else, I view the increased numbers of Double-crested Cormorants on the Great Lakes as a very positive indicator that the health of the lakes is improving. I think it's time we all boycotted locations such as Point Pelee National Park and Presqu-ile Provincial Park where this carnage takes place. Perhaps the economic hit taken by the communities that benefit from the money birders spend will be enough to stop the annual kill.

Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge that the land on which we are situated are the lands traditionally used by the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, and Neutral People. We also acknowledge the enduring presence and deep traditional knowledge, laws, and philosophies of the Indigenous Peoples with whom we share this land today. We are all treaty people with a responsibility to honour all our relations.